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Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Nurturing relationships: The test of a shared society

Monday, January 16th, 2017

How many contacts do you have stored on your phone? The head of an adolescent mental health unit once told me that his patients typically had 6 to 10 contacts listed and most of those people were likely to be professional helpers like himself. Social isolation could be both a cause and a consequence of his young patient’s ill health. It was certainly a common characteristic.

I was thinking about this when I read about the Age Concern research published last week revealing that “Half a million people over the age of 60 usually spend each day alone, with no interaction with others, and nearly half a million more commonly do not see or speak to anyone for five or six days a week”.

And whilst we are on the subject of alarming numbers an Action for Children survey of 2,000 parents in 2015 found that almost a quarter said they ‘always or often’ felt lonely.

Social isolation is not a problem for the young or for the old. It is a galloping crisis for us all

Last week we wondered on this blog whether a “shared society” is empty rhetoric or the PM’s genuine intention. If the phrase has any serious substance our collective ability to reconnect with one another, or at least to reverse the trends, must surely be the test.

The consequences may vary – loneliness, ill health, long term unemployment etc. – but the roots are the same. School performance, economic opportunities, physical and mental health, and ultimately life expectancy are all substantially influenced by the strength and depth of our social connections. Very few of us glide effortlessly through life without ever experiencing any difficulty. Our capacity for coping and bouncing back depends in part on our readiness, our acquired skills and strengths, and in part on the support around us, the networks and relationships which sustain and recharge us.

We often make the case for early action but nowhere is it more self-evidently essential. As the Early Action Task Force has noted befriending schemes are important but not sufficient. They are to loneliness what food banks are to poverty – an essential response to a crisis but not a long term solution. The early action response to isolation would involve a commitment to sustained community building throughout the life course – essentially what much of Community Links work on the ground has been all about for almost 40 years.

As we explored on this blog a few weeks ago technology has, in recent years, swept into every corner of our lives often, in the process, sweeping out friendships and relationships. We think people change lives, not transactions. Valuing and developing this element of deep value in our services here, and working to embed it more broadly across the public domain is another long standing priority for Community Links and now more urgent than ever.

The most useful work experience placements or internships are invariably shared across “warm networks” and as many as 8 out of 10 new jobs go to people known to the employer. The old cliché about it not being “what you know but who you know” is still a fair comment on the state of social mobility and, more broadly, on the distribution of opportunity in communities like ours. Building networks, and nurturing the confidence to negotiate them, is the focus of Community Links programmes like Future Links which won a Charity Times Award last October. It isn’t rocket science but it is important and it does work.

Incidental Connections showed that there is no single right way to build communities and to nurture effective and meaningful relationships but doing it better in 2017 may well be the single highest priority for organisations like ours, Jobcentres, GPs, police officers, schools, and indeed any agency in the public domain. Whether Theresa May is, or is not, seriously committed to building a shared society, we should be.

We can’t address ‘the burning injustice of mental illness’ without proper social investment

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Yesterday Theresa May made some welcome announcements about the government’s future direction on preventing mental illness and promoting positive mental health.

She rightly identified that not only is mental health a social justice issue, but that the best way to improve it is by making it “an everyday concern for all of us, and in every one of our institutions”. Taking an early action approach is therefore imperative to preventing mental illness, and in doing so “transforming the way we deal with mental health problems at every stage of a person’s life”. In doing so she recognises, rhetorically at least, that the current crisis in mental health is as much a social crisis as a medical or funding crisis.

Thriving Minds: Acting early on mental health

Just before Christmas the Early Action Task Force published its latest report looking at how we can act earlier on mental health. Central to the argument of Thriving Minds is that as mental health underpins so many aspects of our lives, we need a far ranging response that goes beyond simply reforming mental health services.

A useful way of thinking about this was best put by report co-author Rosie Hayes, when she asked is mental illness the ‘Great Stink’ of our time? She highlighted that since the 19th century the government has recognised the benefit of investing in physical infrastructure such as the sewer system to improve public physical health, arguing that today we face a comparable situation in mental health. Therefore, similarly to the areas identified by the Prime Minister, we argue in Thriving Minds that schools, the workplace, communities, money, and the criminal justice system are important areas for early action beyond – and in collaboration with – mental health services.

We would also add private renting to the Prime Minister’s list, as renters are 75% more likely to experience serious anxiety and depression than homeowners. This is largely down to insecurity in the private rented sector, itself a consequence of unaffordability, short-term tenures, and poor living conditions. If we don’t tackle these issues – and the issues identified in the other 5 areas mentioned above – then it is unlikely we will be able to prevent mental illness, let alone promote positive mental health. Legislative approaches like those found in Scotland with the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 and more local initiatives like co-regulation of private landlords are promising starts, but more must be done.

Was it all just rhetoric?

As other commentators have pointed out, we should be sceptical of these pledges – however welcome they are on the surface – when previous governments have at best consistently failed on mental health provision and, at worst, actively damaged it with cuts. David Robinson wrote on our blog yesterday that announcements like this – and Blair’s “Giving Age” – are sometimes pure rhetoric entirely lacking in policy substance. The mere fact that mental health was given such prominence in the Prime Minister’s first proper speech on social policy makes us optimistic, but equally we are wary about aspirational announcements with no new money to back them up. Only time will tell how serious this government really is about addressing our current mental health crisis and, ultimately, long-term investment in key social infrastructure such as schools, the workplace, and communities is the most likely thing to yield a triple dividend: enabling people to lead thriving lives, costing less, and contributing more.

Six ways society can act earlier for mental health

Friday, November 25th, 2016

On the 9th December, the Early Action Task Force will be publishing its newest report: ‘Thriving Minds: Acting Early on Mental Health‘. Within the report we’ve focused on six areas, although we could have doubled this list as mental health runs through everything in a circle of cause and effect. Below is a snapshot of our thinking on how society can act early on mental health.

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1. Education

Half of all diagnosable mental health conditions in adults begin before the age of 14

Given the above statistic, our school years present a significant opportunity to promote positive mental health early. School can take measures to promote positive mental health, such as the whole-school approach of the Mancroft Advice Project. Local and central governments also need to ensure that their policies are focused on promoting positive mental health in children through collaboration with local services and reducing the pressure of exams.

2. Work

Mental health problems account for 47% of long term absences from work

If people felt they wouldn’t be stigmatised for having a mental health problem, they’d be much more likely to disclose this and take time off earlier to prevent their mental health from reaching crisis point. Training in Mental Health First Aid can aid understanding and reduce stigma, whilst organisational approaches such as ‘happier@work’ can make workplaces a more mentally positive place to be. Of course, some people may still fall ill and need time off work, so it’s also important that employment support services are tailored to those with mental health needs to enable them to get back into sustainable, good quality work.

3. Money

Problem debt makes a person twice as likely to develop a mental health problem

At present, a significant number of people are caught up in a vicious cycle of mental health problems and problem debt. By reducing the amount of problem debt people take on, improving early access to advice, and changing debt collection practices, we can act earlier to ensure the cycle is broken. CAB’s ‘Healthy Advice’ scheme is a good example of how services are innovating to ensure they are reaching the people who need advice as early as possible.

4. Criminal Justice

90% of prisoners have a mental health problem

The criminal justice system is host to many people at the sharp end of the collective failure to act earlier for mental health. Yet the system can play a role in creating an alternative for these people. We’ve come across excellent examples of Street Triage and Liaison & Diversion schemes which divert people away from the criminal justice system and into the care they need. Acting earlier also means making prisons mentally healthy environments, so they aren’t creating or exacerbating mental health problems for offenders who will eventually leave prison. Finally, the majority of offenders do not go to prison, so it is important that probation services are equipped to provide support in the community, as well as ensuring offenders are ready to re-enter society.

5. Housing

Renters are 75% more likely to experience serious anxiety and depression than homeowners

Insecurity in the private rented sector, as a result of a lack of affordability, short-term tenures, and poor conditions, is a significant damaging factor to private renters’ mental health. Accordingly, it is important that these issues are tackled in order to reduce the likelihood of mental illness and promote positive mental health – the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 is a promising start but more needs to be done.

6. Communities

Chronic loneliness is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day

Local services can play an important role in preventing loneliness and fostering social connection, ranging from highly formal services explicitly aimed at connecting people, to the more incidental connections that are created through the varied community spaces and events that we might engage with on a day to day basis for other purposes entirely. Building these connections can positively influence the way that we think about ourselves and our communities, in turn promoting better mental health, as demonstrated by Haringey Thinking Space.


It is evident that if we are to act earlier to promote positive mental health, we need to be acting before people need to engage with mental health services. In order to achieve this, it is essential that we recognise the current crisis in mental health as a social crisis, as opposed to simply a healthcare crisis. In acknowledging that mental health is everyone’s responsibility, sectors should act together to share the cost of early action, as well as the resultant benefits – the triple dividend of enabling people to lead thriving lives, whilst costing less to public services and contributing more to our economy.

If you’re interested in the ideas we’ve raised here and would like to know more, please sign up to our mailing list to ensure you receive a link to the report when it is published. You can also attend our discussion on early action for mental health, hosted by the Big Lottery Fund, on Friday 9th December from 9.30am-12pm. For further information and to register for a free ticket, please visit our Eventbrite page.

Surviving today, jam tomorrow

Monday, November 21st, 2016

Speaking today at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference, Jeremy Corbyn will argue for long-term public intervention for “the common good”He will highlight how the Prime Minister’s mantra of people “just about managing”, now known as ‘Jams’ in Whitehall, doesn’t ring true for many who instead find themselves “just about surviving”. A combination of policy changes and market failures mean this group are forced to continuously cope with immediate challenges rather than being enabled to find sustainable ways out of poverty.

Back in 2014, we published our third report analysing the cumulative impact of welfare reform in East London. It was called “Just About Surviving”, and explored the ways in which individuals and families were struggling to cope with changes to the social security system.

We found that the reforms were putting people into highly stressful situations, often left feeling powerless and trapped in poverty. People were cycling in in and out of poorly paid and precarious employment, constantly juggling diminishing incomes, and making choices that no-one should be forced to make; going without meals so that their children could eat, washing clothes by hand as they couldn’t afford to replace a broken washing machine, and walking long distances to work in the early hours of the morning.

These coping strategies meant that most of them were just about getting by. But only just. People were living on the edge, drawing on finite sources of support where it was available, and increasingly reliant on friends and family as official support was – and is – cut closer to the bone.

The worsening situation

As Corbyn will note, low wages, precarious employment, and high housing costs are pushing these strategies beyond breaking point. Our research shows that this isn’t a new story, and has been a feature of life in the UK for several years now. Structural issues with the labour and housing markets combine with regressive and counter-productive social security reforms to ensure that people are trapped in a cycle of survival; making short term choices that just about keep them afloat for another week or two, but often reduce their possibility of escaping in the future. This short-termism is mirrored in policy making. Measures such as Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), for example, provide a vital lifeline for many, but rarely come with the support to make sustainable improvements to their lives like finding secure and adequately paid employment or more affordable housing.

As research by Policy in Practice shows, families are set to be £2,500 a year worse off by 2020 due to welfare reform. Whilst this is an important figure and illustrates the scale of the problem, it only tells us part of the story. It doesn’t get at crucial information such as what kinds of coping strategies people may or may not have exhausted. It won’t tell us how the cuts affect individual adults, children, or communities. Nor does it tell us the broader effect on local organisations who are already struggling to meet demand in an increasingly difficult funding environment. We will therefore continue to shed light on these issues through our qualitative research on the cumulative impact of welfare reform, focussing in particular on how Universal Credit affects both those in and out of work.

We are also going to start looking at some of the underlying issues that cause and exacerbate problems for those who are just about surviving. Over the next year we will be conducting in-depth research into the private rented sector, aiming to understand how poor quality housing, overcrowding, and unaffordability can affect people’s health, education, employment and communities. We hope that by doing so we will be able to show that a lack of action by government on these issues is self-defeating and short sighted, as not only will it damage lives, but will increase costs as the demand for services continues to soar.

Moving beyond survival

The problem with the depiction of people as “just about managing” is that it evokes an image of relatively secure individuals and families who face the occasional high fuel bill. It insinuates that they can easily work their way out of their predicament if they just put their minds to it. In turn this leads to policy responses that are partial, short-term, and ultimately unable to enable people to find a sustainable route out of poverty. These responses are also unlikely to solve our low productivity problem, also highlighted in Corbyn’s speech.

The reality for those who are “just about surviving” is far worse than the Prime Minister seems willing to admit. Until we act earlier on the root causes of the problems that this group faces, any progress made via tweaks to the system is likely to stutter and stall before too long. If we want people to thrive, then a long-term investment in society is what we desperately need; more affordable housing, greater job security, better relationships, and a social security system that promotes opportunity rather than acts as a last resort.

Functional, fulfilling and friendly: Developing the Bumping Places

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

During a visit to an Age UK volunteering event on Wednesday, the new mayor of London outlined a series of plans “to improve social integration and ensure more Londoners develop strong relationships with people of different faiths, race, economic background and age”.  His intentions included “using design and planning to ensure people spend more time meeting people from different backgrounds, for example by ensuring all schools have a sheltered space at the entrance so parents can stop and talk as they drop their children at school.”  

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Regular readers of this blog will recognise the genesis of this simple idea, and parents of primary school children will have seen its potential for themselves. Local networks expand and improve when new parents join the school gate fraternity.  It is a physical locus, of course, but the shared interest and experience of the group makes it much more than just a physical intersection. A peer network evolves sharing knowledge, personal support and often practical help. My mother’s friendship group when she died at 79 still included women she met outside my first classroom.

We don’t need a research grant to understand why this works better at some schools than others. I think of two schools close to us here in Newham. One, on a very busy road, doesn’t allow adults into the playground. The other welcomes parents into an open sided shelter with a few benches in the playground just outside the Year One class rooms. Guess which one works betters as the kind of informal bumping place that, to use the mayors phrase, “improves social integration and ensures more Londoners develop strong relationships with people of different faiths, race, economic background and age”.

Why does this work naturally at the school gate but not, for instance, at the station where a regular crowd also gather at 8.05 day after day? We identified three characteristics of successful “platforms for community building”.

FUNCTIONALITY was the primary reason that people engaged with their platforms, whether that was to pick-up or drop-off their children, sing in a choir, or buy a cup of coffee. Each platform was also FULLFILLING in one way or another, allowing participants to reap benefits from involvement such as learning a new skill or feeling as if they had contributed to something. Finally, it was the FRIENDLINESS of each platform that cemented participant’s motivation to engage.”

Some of this can’t be achieved with Planning Guidance and Regulation or mayoral dictat, but simple observation shows that the design of the built environment is where it all begins and has a critical influence on the quality and quantity of our local networks. Just watch the parents hurry away, heads down, from the first aforementioned school and see how in the other playground parents stay and chat in the evening whilst their children play together.  We can design social integration into the places where we live or we can design it out.

A huge amount of evidence shows why this matters. The IPPR’s Shared Ground report for instance noted the importance of shared spaces as a way of building cohesion and countering anti-immigration sentiments. Stronger neighbourhoods have less crime. Loneliness is twice as deadly as obesity and 4 times more people find work through friends and neighbours than through the Jobcentre.

The Mayor described social integration as “the key to a more productive, healthier and ultimately more prosperous city for all Londoners”. Making the numerous bumping places in our complex urban environment “functional, fulfilling and friendly” isn’t an alternative to, or a distraction from, a big mayoral vision like tackling extremism, reducing crime or beating unemployment, it is the making of it.

Ethnic minority women failing to attend cancer screening appointments

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

As our health programme expands it outreach work to Camden this month, we take a look at the challenges we’ve identified for ethnic minority women accessing health services in Newham.

Could unexplained weight loss be a sign of lung cancer? – was the first question asked by our health advisor to a group of Pakistani women at Katherine Road Community Centre earlier this week. While some answered yes, it was clear from the following questions in the pre training survey that the women in this group were not at all confident about identifying signs of lung cancer.  What’s more, a few of them spoke very little English.

Cancer Research UK recently surveyed 720 White British, Caribbean, African, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, to find that a quarter to over a third (26-38%) of women from an ethnic minority background thought that cancer was incurable.

These findings alongside other cancer research studies in the British Journal of Cancer suggest a wide range of barriers resulting in non-attendance at cervical screening among ethnic minority women, including lack of knowledge about screening, low perceived risk, language difficulties, embarrassment or fear of the test, negative past experiences, negative attitudes to the NHS and practical difficulties such as time pressures.

Worryingly, women from ethnic minority backgrounds have a low engagement with early detection of cancer, and are less likely to attend cancer screening or see their doctor about cancer symptoms.

This research demonstrates the value and impact of Community Links’ health education sessions which are raising awareness of breast, bowel and lung cancer – increasing knowledge of the signs and symptoms, as well as encouraging early detection and screening.

While the research above suggests people’s attitudes and fears are preventing early detection and screening uptake, our experience indicates that there are additional barriers, ones which are very tangible. For instance, we are finding that many people are reporting that they did not receive their bowel cancer screening kits through the post.

Furthermore, a significant number of women we reached to discuss breast screening appointments had not received a letter inviting them for a mammogram – an examination of the breasts.

When women turn 50 they should receive these invites every three years up until the age of 70, however what our ‘Calling Project’ highlights is that many women are reporting that they have not received any information about breast screening.

Our experience sheds light on the findings that nationally 100,000 women a year are ignoring their first invite for breast screening – most of whom are in their early fifties. Currently, the proportion of women in England attending breast screening after their first invite is at a decade low.

In 2014/15, just 63.3 per cent of women aged 50 to 70 were screened for breast cancer within six months of receiving their first invitation, down from 65.8 per cent the year before and 70.1 per cent in 2004/5.

Participation in breast cancer screening is lower in deprived areas. Research shows women are more likely to attend breast screening appointments if they have access to a car which suggests delivering breast screening locally is important in addressing poor uptake in less affluent areas. However, further investigation at a local level is needed to understand the multiple barriers preventing  people from attending cancer screening appointments.

Cancer can be life-changing, but it can also be curable and preventable. So, what are we doing?  We are applying our Early Action approach by reaching out to thousands of people annually;

Our outreach workers are telling people that they must keep their contact details and home address up to date in their GP practices to receive important information about cancer screening and detecting.

During our health education sessions at libraries, community centres, schools and colleges our team give out resources produced by the ‘small c’ campaign, which are cards listing the potential symptoms of bowel, breast or lung cancer. Individuals are encouraged to tick the ones they have and present the card to their GP if they have any concerns.

This is particularly helpful for people who have language difficulties, lack confidence or fear going to see their GP. Our conversations with people are crucial. We encourage individuals to value these cards and use them to exercise more responsibility for their own health and the health of others around them.

To find out more information about our health programme please contact:


Don’t read this blog

Monday, April 18th, 2016

There is so much to be learnt from the seven early action stories which we published last week that your time would be far better spent reading the report than reading this blog…

Back again so soon? Well no doubt you will have your own list of favourite insights from the case studies, but here are mine:

1) Early action CAN be measured:

Early action sceptics and naysayers often argue that you can’t count what doesn’t happen, and that even if you could count it, you wouldn’t be able to assess the saving with any accuracy. Boilers on Prescription did both. They can show very clearly that, within 18 months and as a direct result of their work, the need for GP appointments for their chronically sick client group had fallen by 60% and that the number of people admitted to hospital had fallen by 25%. Given that each doctor’s appointment costs £50 and each admission costs £2500 it isn’t difficult to understand how they justify the claim that their investments in household heating improvements are recovered within 9 months. Other featured projects could be similarly precise about the “business case” for their work. We really must stop tolerating the idea that early action can’t be measured.

2) A better today as well as a better tomorrow:

The numbers also emphatically dismiss the other urban myth about early action – that preventative activity always takes a very long time to bear fruit. The Passage “Homes for Good” project works to prevent repeated homelessness and has, over the last year, enabled 97% of its formerly homeless clients to retain their homes as opposed to 84% of the clients who received no such support. People are befitting within 12 months. As NCT chief executive Nick Wilkie said at the launch of the report yesterday “we are often told that we have to choose between dealing with a problem today or preventing it tomorrow. Actually that isn’t so. Early action is about a better today and a better tomorrow”.

3) The value of light touch relationships:

We have noted before that strong relationships are frequently part of the most effective early action programmes. Relationship based projects like the Ceredigion Specialist intervention Team  and Includem featured in the report and reinforce this point, but the experience of Detecting Cancer Early shows that, in some circumstances, this approach doesn’t need to be as intensive, and therefore as expensive, as we might first imagine. A sympathetic phone call, as opposed to a dessicated text, is increasing take up of cancer screening appointments in east London by 15%.

4) Partnerships with unlikely friends:

There are lots of reasons why partnership working is frequently a sensible thing to do but invariably this means working with people like us and organisations like ours. The remarkable Call and Check initiative in Jersey utilises the “delivery platform” of the postal service to improve health and social care on the island and the Passage’s Before you Go programme has partnered with, amongst others, embassies in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania and Poland. Whether it is the postie or the ambassador stretching our imaginations to work with unlikely friends brings new and quite different resources to the mission.

5) Building on strengths:

Launching the report yesterday Big Lottery Fund CEO Dawn Austwick noted that funders too often ask “what’s the matter with you” rather than “what matters to you?” In other words grant makers and commissioners and indeed many policy makers and practitioners, look for a deficit to fill rather than an asset to build on. All the featured projects, in their different ways, flipped this around looking for strengths sometimes in improbable places. Nowhere is this more evident than in Jobs, Friend and Houses where the “recovery community” in Blackpool are working together on renovating and renting out derelict properties . Most are ex offenders with a history of alcohol or drug dependency. After 2 years 5% have relapsed, none have reoffended. These are people who are, often for the first time in their lives, focusing on what they can do, clearly very well, not on what they can’t. “We look at today and tomorrow” says CEO Steve Hodgkins “not yesterday”.

These seven stories are the first in a new gallery of case studies that we will be building up over the coming months. Do please get in touch if you are part of a story that should be told.

Join us on 14 April to hear Early Action Insights from the frontline

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Back in early November we asked you to share your experiences of early action; services or activities, in any sector and for any age, that stop a social problem from getting worse or arising altogether. Since then we’ve collected over twenty examples of projects that are acting earlier; enabling people to lead thriving lives, costing less and contributing more.

On 14 April we’re launching our report A Rough Guide to Early Action: How society is acting earlier, featuring some of the examples we think showcase how early action is a different approach to public services that are delivering financial, social and economic benefits.

The event will also be the first in our Early Action Insights series – seminars for practitioners, policymakers and funders to discuss how implementing early action can practically be achieved. In this meeting we’re showcasing Boilers on Prescription and The Passage in an open discussion chaired by Dawn Austwick, CEO of the Big Lottery Fund.

Boilers on Prescription is getting doctors in Sunderland and Durham to prescribe home heating improvements for people with chronic respiratory diseases. After 18 months, their doctor’s appointments have fallen by 60% and visits to A&E by 30%. The Passage is a London homelessness charity that’s made prevention a key aim in a sector often pushed into managing crisis. Responding to increasing repeat homelessness, one of its projects – Homes For Good – connects formerly homeless people with community organisations, enabling them to build a social support network that helps them keep their homes. Over the last year, 97% of the people it supports are still living in their own homes.

By hearing from the practitioners that are making these projects happen, we’ll share insights on the practical challenges facing others seeking to put early action into practice. That’s why Boilers on Prescription will shed light on how to engage partner organisations to deliver early action. The Passage will help show how resources can be reinvested to run prevention alongside acute services. And we’ll also discuss how early action can be implemented in austerity, how to measure its impact and how organisations can use their frontline experience to design early action services.

In such austere times, having a platform to discuss how we can make a common sense idea like early action common practice is more important than ever. With increasing funding cuts to public services, early action is a long-term strategy that will reduce our need for costly acute services and make better use of existing spending in the meantime. People who are not facing problems are healthier, happier and more able to contribute at work, support their families and get involved in their communities. This is good for individuals, good for society and good for our economy.

As it is, George Osborne’s budget announcement that an additional £3.5 billion needs to be cut by 2019/2020 is forcing already tight budgets (over a third smaller in real terms since 2010) to breaking point. It’s a short-sighted approach that will not only increase our need for acute services later down the line, it’s effecting policies that are failing to address some of the systemic reasons why people continue to face problems in the first place, including a disproportionate squeeze on low-earnersgrowing housing insecurity and rising health inequalities.

We hope our Rough Guide to Early Action will inspire you to start thinking differently about how services can be delivered. There’s a lot to be done at governmental level, but growing momentum for early action also depends on building our knowledge of what works, and sharing what’s possible from the bottom-up. Localism does not limit its ambition. As Boilers on Prescription and The Passage show, early action is getting traction with big players such as the NHS. It’s by sharing how this was achieved and how other projects have amplified their work that we’ll start seeing services acting earlier. That’s why we hope our Early Action Insights series will be a space for practitioners to get inspired and equipped to make early action a reality in their areas.

We welcome you to join us on 14 April 2016 in London for the first Early Action Insights,
book your place


With many people on low incomes facing housing insecurity, this is not a budget for future generations

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

George Osborne has coined this year’s budget as one ‘for the next generation’. But apart from successfully grabbing headlines with his ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks, he’s delivered very little that’ll breakdown the structural barriers facing younger generations.

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The Chancellor’s plan to help us save does not address the reasons why many of us struggle to save in the first place. For low to middle income workers the government’s ‘Help to Save’ scheme is a sticking-plaster as declining incomes forecasted for the poorest 25% of households, cuts to child tax credit and increasing conditionality on benefits means that many families are living on less week-by-week, let alone saving for the future. People earning between £10,000 and £19,000 rarely ever save money, according to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Rather than helping low and middle income families, the ‘Lifetime ISA’ will only benefit those who can already afford to save.

Home-ownership is similarly unattainable for younger generations. Osborne has given a tax-break for people renting out their properties online but has done nothing to address the chronic housing shortage, leading to burgeoning numbers of families living in the expensive private rented sector, crowded multiple occupancy tenancies or waiting years to get into social housing. Renters pay almost half their income on rent, and that rises to over 70% for London renters, according to the English Housing Survey. This is locking in a generation to a lifetime of renting, making it harder to keep consistent employment or education and fuelling anxiety caused by precarious month-by-month tenancies.

For those without even basic shelter, the £115m earmarked to support rough sleepers is too little too late. Over 40% of homelessness services have faced severe funding cuts over the past year, according to Homeless Link, with very few able to provide preventative services ensuring people don’t become homeless in the first place. In a sector still dominated by crisis management, £115m is a drop in the ocean for enacting the kind of serves that’ll mean homelessness isn’t an issue in future generations.

In our last blog we reported on the bleak outlook for the young and working-age, with levels of poverty rising sharply among 16-24 year olds and incomes for pensioners rising ten times faster than for young people since 2002. Osborne says he’s delivered a budget ‘backing people who work hard and save’, but there is little in this budget to tackle the reasons why people are in precarious employment, out of work altogether, or unable to save. These are some of the key drivers of poverty and without a plan now, Osborne is not building the foundations to benefit the next generation.

From our experience of working with low and middle income families in Newham, where 40% of people are under 25, we need more investment to address problems earlier. For job insecurity this means incentivising businesses to reduce zero-hours contract and supporting people to progress in work, rather than waiting until they’ve been out of work to offer employment support. For housing insecurity this means regulating the private rented sector, making sure people have secure rental contracts enabling them to plan for the cost of accommodation, rather than needing crisis support after a long period of housing insecurity. If we address these issues now we will be far closer to Osborne’s vision of a future generation of hard working savers.

We need an early action approach to later life more than ever

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

It’s a universal truth that we get older. According to the ONS, average life expectancy at birth has increased since the 1980s by about 10 weeks every year for women and 13.5 for men. This means that 1 in 3 babies born this year will be centenarians. More than a demographic change, an ageing population is a social challenge as more people depend on public services paid for by fewer people of working-age.

In response the government is supporting the Centre for Ageing Better as part of the What Works Network, which aims to improve the way government and other organisations create, share and use high-quality evidence for decision making. With £50m Big Lottery funding over the next decade, its programme ‘Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better’ plans to improve the lives of older people by helping them feel more prepared for later life, more in control and more active and connected. photo Ageing_zpsbxiixrko.png

Last Wednesday the research findings underpinning these priorities were announced. Along with Ipsos MORI, it conducted a major study into the wellbeing of over 50s, interviewing almost 1,400 people. It shows that social connectedness, financial security and health are the main determiners of wellbeing. More tellingly, perhaps, it shows that people with high social connectedness are able to overcome the negative effects of poor health and financial worries, suggesting that it’s the most significant indication of wellbeing.

It follows, then, that having more opportunity to be with people is the major aspiration among over 50s. Those with high social connectedness are more than twice as happy as the average older person. Over 50s also want to be fitter, more active and connected through better access to societies and volunteering.

This means there’s a huge potential for early action in later life. Building relationships and resourcefulness within communities is one of its core principles, and enabling older people to become part of social groups and engaged with their communities not only improves individual’s wellbeing but also contributes more to society as a whole.

Too often the preventative thrust of early action is only associated with early years, but these findings show that it’s important throughout the life-cycle, enabling people to maximise quality of life in older age. As Anna Dixon, the Centre’s CEO said, it’s not about living longer but putting life back into living.

This means enabling older people to meaningfully participate by promoting fitness classes, offering accessible financial advice and planning, and more social and volunteering opportunities to name but a few. This is so important in changing the perception of ageing to one of ‘resourcefulness’: as chronological age rises it is not inevitable that people should suffer decline. At the moment it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that people who look upon ageing negatively die 7.5 years earlier than their more positive peers. Society has a huge role to play in proactively supporting older people view ageing as positively as possible.

We’re pleased that the Centre for Ageing is committed to a preventative, proactive and asset-based approach to ageing. Last Wednesday it felt as though there’s genuine enthusiasm for sharing what’s most effective in enabling older people to lead thriving lives, costing less and contributing more. Last year we set out our vision for early action in later life, showing that longer-term planning, integrating and locally providing services has the potential to increase wellbeing and social connectedness among older people.

With our collective age on the up, it’s no good for government to continue its piecemeal and reactive policies on ageing, tinkering at social care and pension reform. It’s unsustainable on public finances and underutilises the huge contribution older people can make through their time, resources and experiences. Restructuring the labour market to enable older people reduce their hours and change roles, tailoring social care towards the individual and introducing services to signpost over 50s to age-friendly local employers, charities and societies are among many of our recommendations for transforming older people’s opportunities for participation.

Now, more than ever, is the time for doing so. With foresight around enablement and prevention, the Centre for Ageing has scope to institute early action in later life and deliver systemic change. It’s difficult at this stage to say any more than watch this space, but with ten years secure funding it really does have the resources to make later life a transformative platform for early action.